Care For Tea With ‘Milk’? Fill Up At Sagittarius

Can you find the Teapot? Hint: the Milky Way is "steaming" from its spout. Credit: Bob King
Can you find the Teapot? Hint: the Milky Way is “steaming” from its spout. Credit: Bob King

I’m a tea drinker. Two cups a day keep my engine humming. On summer nights, the Teapot of Sagittarius stands at the ready to tip a different sort of cup. One that provides a thick brew of Milky Way stars, sooty interstellar gas clouds and sparkling star clusters.

The view facing south in late June and early July. The Teapot isn't an official constellation but rather an asterism formed of the brightest stars in Sagittarius. Map: Bob King, source: Stellarium
The view facing south in late June and early July. The Teapot isn’t an official constellation but rather an asterism formed of the brightest stars in Sagittarius. Planet positions are for June 30. Map: Bob King, source: Stellarium

Sagittarius is a centaur with the body and four legs of a horse and the upper torso of a man who draws a bow to shoot an arrow. Full disclosure. I’ve never once attempted to see this ancient figure of Sumerian origin preferring instead the shorthand version of the constellation — the Teapot. Sagittarius follows Scorpius, that is to say, it lies to the east or left of that sinuous constellation when facing south. As June transitions to July, the Teapot comes into its own starting around 11 o’clock local daylight time. Look for the figure about one to two fists high (depending on your latitude) low in the southeastern sky around that hour.

If eleven’s too late for you, just wait two weeks and Earth’s revolution around the sun will cause the constellation to rise nearly an hour earlier.

At left is an artist's view of how our galaxy would look from above. The photo at right shows the edge-on view looking at it from the side. The sun's position in both views is marked. When we look straight into the galaxy's starry disk, they stack up to create a band of light we call the Milky Way. When we look up through the disk and into the nearly empty space beyond the galaxy, we see only a scattering of stars. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech (left); courtesy Ned Wright (right)
At left is an artist’s view of how our galaxy would look from above. The photo at right shows the edge-on view looking at it from the side. The sun’s position in both views is marked. When we look straight into the galaxy’s starry disk, they stack up to create a band of light we call the Milky Way. When we look up through the disk and into the nearly empty space beyond the galaxy, we see only a scattering of stars. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech (left); courtesy Ned Wright (right)

Under a dark sky, a steamy Milky Way billows upwards from the Teapot’s spout to form a band that passes over your shoulders and into the north. When we gaze at what looks like smoke or a line of puffy clouds, we’re looking straight through the thickest, starriest part of our galaxy’s flattened disk. Stars pile up over hundreds and thousands of light years into a narrow hazy band — the Milky Way. If you look left or right of the band, your gaze takes you straight out of the disk and into intergalactic space, where the stars quickly thin out, hence no band.

If you stay up past midnight in late May you may find it hard to tear yourself away from the sight of the Milky Way spanning the sky from east to south. This picture was taken Monday morning when I should have been sleeping. Details: 15mm lens at f/2.8, ISO 1600, 30-second exposure. Photo: Bob King
The sight of the Milky Way from a dark sky site can take your breath away. The Teapot is at lower right.  Credit: Bob King

As we learned in a recent blog, the center of the galaxy lies just above the spout though most of the stars in that direction are blocked from view by lots and lots of interstellar dust left behind after supernovae explosions.

With the moon out of the sky for a while yet, take some time to “pour yourself” a cup of tea with milk. Even if you’re a coffee drinker, you owe it to yourself to sample this magical brew.